This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation. It showcases the idea from Nik Miller, Chief Executive at the Bridge Group.
Beyond matters immediately within the control of the Office for Students, there are important areas that risk limiting positive progress on fair access that deserve attention. First, there needs to be greater exploration of the way in which university league tables are constructed: for example, they typically disadvantage institutions operating contextual admissions (because entry tariff is considered a proxy for student quality), and consider graduate outcomes in absolute terms (assuming implicitly that every students’ starting line is in the same place).
The sharper focus on student success is welcome, but employers play a critical role in determining students’ prospects. This demands greater scrutiny. For example, many employers continue to attract students from a limited list of the least diverse institutions, refuse to consider students below a certain A-Level tariff – as university contextual admissions opens the door for many students, it is slammed shut once more upon graduation – and offer unpaid and unadvertised internships.
These items could be dismissed as outside of scope. That would be unhelpfully reductive: achieving equality of opportunity requires collective responsibility, and collaborative action. Above all, the creation of the Office for Students is an important opportunity to look inwards with a sharper focus, but also to look outwards; to convene influencers across sectors to deliver coherent approaches, and to dismantle prevailing contradictions.